The Marist water polo team put up two strong efforts at the Courtney Fisher Invitational, the team’s Senior Night and home opener. The Red Foxes turned in a close loss to arch-rival Wagner College and a big win over Long Island University (LIU) while honoring their seniors and the late Courtney Fisher this past Saturday.
The 24th-ranked Red Foxes started their day with a tough challenge, facing no. 18 ranked Wagner at 8 a.m. Wagner has defeated Marist in the MAAC championship in each of the past six seasons. That theme continued, if only in result, through their first matchup of this season as the Seahawks won, 14-12. Marist kept the score within three points the whole way and led by one with 7:21 left in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t close the deal.
Despite the loss, Marist came away pleased with their performance. “The thing my team needs to learn is that we have nothing to lose,” head coach Chris Vidale said after the match. “They have more to lose; they’re six-time champions, they’re ranked 18th in the country. They have everything to lose versus us.”
“And to lose by two also shows we’re putting in the right steps and the right measures because the last four conference championships, we lost by three. So the 1% gains are important and I’m gonna tell the team that,” he said. “I know they’re not going to want to hear that, but those are the things you have to live on because we’re chasing them, and they know we’re chasing them, and year by year it gets closer-and-closer. And we just have to figure out how to attack and really get after it with them.”
Utility player Anais Mathes and goalie Carsen Horvatich echoed the sentiment. “Wagner’s always tough competition,” said Mathes. “They’re a very strong team, they’re fast, they have [a] good defense. It was really nice to see where we match up against them and what we need to work on in order to keep going throughout the season.”
Mathes sees the positivity in being in a close game with the team that’s handled Marist time and time again in recent memory. “Throughout my four years here we’ve never had a time where we’ve been ahead of them and so usually, we’re playing catch up,” she said. “At one point in the game, we were leading, so that was really nice to see. We had a lot of people stepping up and we worked on a lot of things at practice and seeing it come together in the game was really awesome.”
“I think we played really well, one of the best games we played against them,” said Horvatich. “This was a good chance to lose to them… we still get to play them two more times and now we know what we need to work on for next time.”
Vidale understood the loss would not be demoralizing for his team. “I know my team; they’ll come back ready, they’ll come back resilient. We have a senior game tonight [where] we’re gonna celebrate [the seniors] and hopefully dominate. We’ll lick our wounds and get back to work.”
Though the final score of the 7:15 p.m. matchup against LIU was 16-8, Marist didn’t exactly dominate. LIU — the newest addition to MAAC water polo — kept it close for the first three quarters, trailing by just two points entering the fourth. At that point, Vidale took his team aside and told them to focus more. The emotions surrounding Senior Night got the best of them.
“We started off a little sloppy,” Vidale said. “I think the feels of it being senior day got a little too much into them; they forgot they also had a job to do.” He further mentioned that the adjustment he made entering the fourth quarter was just getting the team to recognize they weren’t playing up to their potential.
“Their body language [showed] they were upset about what was happening, but they were like ‘well how do we change it?’ You play better, you play for each other, you play together,” he said. He cited Marist’s superior bench and athleticism as keys to securing the victory.
The Red Foxes outscored the Sharks 7-1 in the fourth quarter, including two goals in the first 90 seconds. Mathes says it was a change in the team’s mindset that provoked a strong performance in the fourth quarter. “It was like ‘this is senior night, it’s one of our last home games.’ So, everyone really wanted to step up and be a part of something bigger than that.”
“I think we were just a little distracted, a little too excited about the whole thing,” said Horvatich. “We don’t know this team, it’s a brand new team, so we didn’t really know what to expect. But as soon as we realized it was a close game, we [knew we] needed to step up and take care of business.”
Though the team’s primary focus was on their two games, the Red Foxes also paid their respects to Courtney Fisher, their former teammate who died in a car accident before her sophomore year in 2016. The walk-on is remembered as a fun, energetic person and a very competitive, team-first player.
“It’s tough because I’ve actually never even met Courtney,” said Vidale. “It’s just that when you hear all these things about her, she just sounds like a wonderful young woman. But I wanna pay my respects in any way possible.”
Vidale continued, “She’s looking down on us and she’s with us every step of the way. So it’s a little bit of hand-in-hand because last year was her senior year and I know out of anybody — from what I’ve heard — she would want to be here battling it out, cheering on her teammates.”
A banner with Fisher’s picture and the quote “Remember who you are and who you stand for” hangs above the scorer’s table. Vidale says the team has been asking for it all year.
The team now wears 17 on the back of their uniforms and “practically everything we have that has Marist on it,” according to Vidale. The team wore purple swim caps — Courtney’s favorite color — with the number 17 on them to honor Fisher.
“She has such a strong legacy here that will never ever go away. Girls and women above us who have played with her have said the most positive and amazing things about her,” Mathes said. “So we try to honor her in the best way we can.”
In addition to the team’s purple caps and Fisher’s picture on the wall, Mathes noted that the team also honors Fisher by carrying on her legacy of unwavering positivity. “Whenever we have practice, it’s always thinking about ‘What would Courtney Fisher do?’ She was always the most positive person, so sometimes we have to remind ourselves it’s important to be positive and carry on that legacy she had in practice and in games.”
Horvatich says Fisher’s legacy is all about “getting up every day and not complaining and being positive throughout it all, through the hard times and through the good times and always sticking together as a team.” It’s a mantra that the Red Foxes will look to follow throughout this season and beyond.
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine & Will Bjarnar
Photos by Sam DiGiovanni